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Omega 3 fatty acids in the form of fish oil pills have become a popular supplement for their heart health benefits. But fish oil is also good for your head. Research shows that omega 3 fatty acids may be beneficial for treating serious mood disorders, stress, and even alcohol abuse.
Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine conducted a multi-year study which showed conclusive behavioral and molecular benefits when omega 3 fatty acids were given to mice with bipolar disorder. The fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which is one of the main active ingredients in fish oil, "normalized their behavior," according to Alexander B. Niculescu, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and the lead author of the study.
The study which was reported in the journal Translational Psychiatry, found that mice with characteristic bipolar symptoms including being depressed and, when subjected to stress, becoming manic, responded well to the DHA in fish oil.
According to the researchers, the mice with bipolar disorder that were given DHA normalized their behavior, and were not depressed. When they were subjected to stress, the mice also did not become manic. The researchers were also surprised to find that genes in the mice that are known targets of psychiatric medications were modulated and normalized by DHA.
An unexpected finding of the research was the discovery that the mice given DHA also showed a reduced desire for alcohol.
"These bipolar mice, like some bipolar patients, love alcohol. The mice on DHA drank much less; it curtailed their alcohol abusive behavior," said Dr. Niculescu. The researchers said that this was a completely novel finding which they verified using another well-established animal model of alcoholism.
The authors believe a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids may help the treatment and prevention of bipolar disorder, and may help with alcoholism as well.
The study provides substantial evidence at the molecular level that omega 3 fatty acids work on the brain in ways similar to psychiatric drugs. The authors noted that omega 3 fatty acids are known to be good for one's health, good for one's brain, and lack major side-effects, as opposed to some psychiatric medications.
Dietary sources of DHA come primarily from animal products such as fish, eggs and meats.
Oily fish, such as mackerel, herring, salmon, trout and sardines, are the richest dietary source, containing 10 to 100 times more DHA than vegetarian sources such as nuts, seeds, flax seeds, whole grains and dark green, leafy vegetables.
This laboratory research is consistent with the work of Dr. Andrew L. Stoll with human patients suffering from depression and bi-polar disorder. For more information on his research as well as his anti-depression diet and brain program, see his book, "The Omega-3 Connection."